Press Centre

Michael Buerk and Bettany Hughes on Britain's Secret Treasures

Published: Wed 02 Oct 2013

Starts Thursday 17 October at 8.30pm on ITV
Series overview:
Award-winning journalist Michael Buerk and leading historian and broadcaster Bettany Hughes return to ITV for a brand new series of Britain’s Secret Treasures.  Following its success last year, Michael, Bettany and a host of guest presenters uncover a fresh hoard of extraordinary objects found by ordinary people that have changed our understanding of British history. 
Continuing its successful partnership with the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme, which is responsible for all finds in England and Wales, the new series of Britain’s Secret Treasures also joins forces with Treasure Trove Scotland and the Ulster Museum to include stories of outstanding artefacts discovered by members of the public in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Each and every artefact included in the new eight-part series has been selected due to its national importance, beauty and cultural or historic significance.  All are artefacts, objects or treasures that have been left, lost or discarded by our ancestors, which reveal the remarkable story of how we once lived.
Once again Michael and Bettany are joined by a host of guest presenters including Kevin Whateley, Mariella Frostrup, Katherine Jenkins and Vic Reeves, to find out more about the stories behind each item and to meet many of the members of the public who discovered them.
Britain's Secret Treasures ITV
Interview with Michael Buerk
What can viewers expect from series two? 
"Viewers can expect extraordinary stories from our past, each prompted by an artefact that has been discovered by people like you and me. Objects, either rich and jewelled, or perhaps in their day commonplace, which the British Museum thinks gives us a special insight into how we lived long ago.”
Were you surprised by the success of the series last year? What do you think appealed so much to viewers? 
“I wasn't in the least surprised last year's series was such a success.  We’re all fascinated by our history, and telling the stories of our past through objects that have survived, and been discovered so long afterwards, often by the strangest of chances, makes a compelling connection between us and those who lived so differently, so long ago.”
Any particular stories that stood out to you personally while filming this series?
“My favourite was the wooden boat, thousands of years old, found in river mud in Scotland. It wasn’t just the boat itself, extraordinarily preserved though it was, and, for a boatie like me, fascinating to experience. It was what that boat told us about the people who lived so long ago, and the Scotland they lived in. A much more heavily wooded place than now, when the waterways were the roads for our ancestors. The oak trees grew so close together, the trunks grew much taller than they do today before branching out, enabling our ancestors to hew out a much longer craft than they would be able to do with today’s trees. It paddled well, too!”
Interview with Bettany Hughes 
What can viewers expect from this news series of Britain's Secret Treasures?
“We're just letting the stories speak for themselves, and I think what we are trying to do in this new series is look at the fact that a tiny object can tell a really big story. We look at what they can tell us about our attitudes to war, to money, or to sex.”
“In the series we cover 5000-years of human history and experience in the British Isles. We go right back to this fantastically lovely little Stone Age axe head that a nine-year-old girl found on a school trip to a garlic farm on the Isle of Wight. It's brilliant, because just that discovery shows us that that land was being farmed and used 5000-years ago. Children have very sharp eyes. I have two daughters and they always spot things that I miss when we're on either archaeological digs or walking through historical landscapes.”
Are there any specific stories which stood out for you?
“There are all kinds of fascinating stories in this new series, like the discovery of this hoard of coins, which date from the Elizabethan period. It was a fragile and turbulent time so the coins had to be buried for safety. They're the original dollars, they were known then as thaler, and they were adopted by the early US and are now the dollar as we know it. So Elizabethan dollars are quite cool.”
“There was a guy called David Booth, a farmer's son, and he was a game warden in a safari park. On his very first outing with him having an interest in archaeology, within what might have been minutes, it might have even been seconds, he found four 2000-year-old, exquisitely beautiful twisted gold torcs, these golden necklaces. Talk about beginner's luck.”
Why do you think the first series proved successful?
“Series one did so well and I think that says something really important about the British public. I'm very patriotic and I think one of the great things about Britain is that we are a curious and intelligent nation.”
“We all love the idea of buried treasure and, as I said, the fact that over 70,000 objects are being found by members of the public each year is just exciting. You can't beat the extraordinary and powerful nature of a single historical object that can unpack a big story, both about what it is to be human and about what it is to live in the British Isles. Each and every one of our items does that.”
“That four million people were tuning in nightly to series one, to listen to me and Michael (Buerk) talking about Medieval belt buckles, says something very hopeful about the nation.”
“You cannot underestimate the thrill of holding something in your hands that was last held by somebody 200-years-ago, 500-hundred-years-ago, 2000-years-ago. It's extraordinarily humbling and extraordinarily inspiring, because it makes you feel connected to humanity across both time and space.”
Britain's Secret Treasures returns for a brand new series on Thursday 17th October, 8.30pm, ITV.
The accompanying book Britain’s Secret Treasures is published by Headline on 26th September. For more information contact: